The answer has perhaps more than one angle to it and we have tried to answer it in previous reports in terms of the nervousness felt by the LTTE in the face of any form of Muslim self‑ assertion. Tbe six months of LTTE rule from the departure of the IPKF was characterised by increasing repression against Muslims. If a common question at sentry points today is, are you a Tamil then it used to be, Are you a Muslim? Not only the Muslim Congress, even institutions managing Mosques were sometimes banned. We have also tried to explain the decision to kill Muslim policemen and the successive massacres of Muslims in terms of an interplay between the accumulated feelings of suspicion and hatred that had grown on the LTTE leadership and the populist mileage that was to be gained, by pandering to anti‑Muslim feelings prevalent in some areas of the East. These feelings grew rapidly as the state set about using Muslim anger aroused by massacres of Muslims by Tigers.
The expulsion of Muslims integrated into the North made no political sense, except to pander to Tamil feelings in the East. This systematic persecution renders the explanation attributing the whole episode to a mistake by some undisciplined Tiger area leaders in the Amparai District untenable.
What we were told in the course of conversations with Muslim leaders in the East gives substance to what we have pointed to as the main reason. Indeed the narrow totalitarian claims of Tiger ideology would have found it difficult to adapt to any social diversity. Being both numerous and conscious of an identity, the Tigers saw in the Eastern Muslims an immediate challenge to their claims.
But most Muslim community leaders in the East tried to do what many of their Tamil counterparts did twenty years earlier. They were anxious to preserve the economic and social gains of the Muslims and did not want any ruinous extremism. They also had to contend with younger Muslims feeling humiliated and resentful over the conduct of and demands made by the Tigers.
Muslims leaders, many of whom closely identified with the Tigers, constantly pleaded with them to make their position on Muslim rights clear. A document that came up in these discussions was one drawn up in 1987 when several Muslim leaders held talks with the LTTE leadership in Tamil Nadu. The Muslim organisations represented in these talks included the ACML and the MULF. A point on which agreement is said to have been reached is that of Muslim representation in the projected North‑East provincial council. Since Muslims formed 34% of the population in the East as against 5% in the North, representatives of Eastern Muslims asked for compensatory representation to secure their agreement for the merger of the North and East. It is said that the LTTE had agreed to 33% representation for Muslims. The idea was a diluted form of the 50 ‑ 50 representation sought by the Tamil leader G.G. Ponnampalam prior to independence for Ceylon in 1948.
The Muslim leaders say that not only did the LTTE agree to these rights, it translated the document into Arabic and sent it to Islamic nations and organisations. That was in 1987 when the LTTE was in a much weaker position. In 1990 it had become the dominant power in the North‑East. According to these Muslim leaders, despite their numerous and apparently friendly talks with LTTE leaders such as Balasingam and Yogi, the latter studiously avoided any substantive commitment on Muslim rights. What suggests itself is the same psychology that moved Sinhalese majoirty leaders in the past when faced with Tamil demands and reminded of promises. First it was silent resentment from a feeling that ‘these people are becoming too much’. The next stage was complicity in communal, violence directed against Tamils ‑ ‘They should be taught a lesson’, being the governing sentiment of majority arrogance.[Top]
6.1.2 Yogis’ speech:
The following are extracts from a speech made by Yogi, the LTTE’s political spokesman. The speech was delivered at the University of Jaffna shortly after the expulsion of Muslims in October 1990. The arrogance, muddle headedness, and most importantly the similarity to Sinhalese communalist demonology are self evident. This serves to illustrate the foregong:
“The expulsion of Muslims from the North has resulted in immense shock and amazement among the Tamil people. Why did we expel the Muslims 4000 Tamils were killed in the Eastern Province, of which 2000 were killed by Muslim goons and home guards. Muslims claim that they are neither Sinhalese nor Tamils, but are Arabs. They use this in pursuit of their selfish aims.....They are Tamils. They study in Tamil at Tamil schools. Their culture is not Arab. If it were so their women will be wearing purdah, which is not done here....
“The Muslims form 35% of the East and 5% of the North. In Sri Lanka they are 7% . In the merged North‑East they form 17%. The Muslims of the East claim that they are losing privileges due to 35%. Why cannot they see that 5% Muslims in the North are obtaining privileges owed to 17% Thus those who would receive 2% privileges in the whole of Sri Lanka would receive 17% in the merged North‑East. But the Muslims in the East do not see this.
“If the Muslims in the East are not concerned about the Northern Muslims, why should we worry about them?
“In the Amparai District 10 Tamils villages are no more... 70000 Tamils there have been uprooted. The news of these atrocities did not come out because no one was left to write them. Why do those who did not worry about 70000 Tamils, now worry about 40000 Muslims expelled from the North Unlike what happened to those Tamils, we did not kill them, rape them or loot their property. We only sent them out.
“Some are worried whether a Muslim Jihad organisation would also develop in the North. Premadasa will not tolerate a third armed power...
“We made several promises to the Muslims. We promised them 35% of jobs in the North‑East. We promised them the Deputy Chief Ministership. We promised that the allocation of land will be in proportion to the ethnic ratios in the District. The Muslims did not listen. On the contrary, they joined forces with the Sinhalese army and the Sri Lankan state and set about destroying us....
“Tamil Eelam is a secular state which has no distinctions of religion or caste.... There is no room here for division.
“The Muslims must accept that they are Tamils. They must understand that they are descendents of Arabs who married Tamil women.”
This speech was delivered in the presence of many of those presumed to be intellectual leaders of Tamils and to an audience in the University of Jaffna. By the explusion of Muslims, the university had lost a sizeable section of its students and some of its very able and popular teachers. Yet, despite the serious questions raised by the speech and the sensitive chords touched in view of the Tamils’ own history as an oppressed minority, the speaker was not even mildly challenged, and no discussion ensued. Is it that all these intellectuals had suddenly become stark blind Or, is it something else It is sad to note that goods, particularly electrical items, looted form Muslims are now being sold at a ‘supermarket’ established at the Jaffna BMC Building, and people are buying. (There is however no electricity). Many are pained by this loss of social inhibition resulting from the politics. Others cynically refer to the selling place as the Jaffna Duty‑Free shop.
Yogi’s speech should not be treated in isolation. In 1887, a little over a century ago, Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan, an eminent Tamil leader, published a paper arguing precisely the same thing ‑ that Muslims are Tamils by nationality and Mohamedan by faith. This paper gave much offence and a paper in response to this was published in 1907 by Mr. N.I.L.A. Azeez, a Muslim intellectual and religious leader. It is evident that for over a hundred years the Tamils have largely refused to respect Muslim feelings and self‑perceptions. A common nationality, in the wider sense, needs to be worked for and not imposed by fiat. A Ceylonese or Sri Lankan nationality was once a possibility, but it was not worked for.
The following note, compiled from published material, attempts to shed some light on the rich history of the diverse communities that consist the Muslims of Ceylon.
The continual use of the term ‘Muslim’ to describe those whose right of abode, or businesses, or land, or lives, are under attack is confusing. In some contexts it can be taken to imply that communities such as the Moors and Malays, who are almost entirelyor mostly Muslim by religion, do not have a distinctive Sri Lankan identity or even Sri Lankan identity as the Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese do. A century ago, in 1885, Ponnambalam Ramanathan ‘explained’ in a paper he wrote for, the Royal Asiatic Society, that the Tamil speaking Sri Lankan Muslims were Tamils by Nationality. This simplistic and incorrect view caused offence. Understandably so, even if Ramanathan was not intending to be insulting or racist. But what has recently been said about and done to the Moors of the North and East by the LTTE and their supporters is insulting and racist. It is also based on ignorance.
The great majority of Sri Lankan Muslims are Sri Lanka Moors. Moreover, most of the Sri Lankan Malays are Muslims. As in the case of those who are lumped together as Sinhalese or Sri Lankan Tamils or Burghers, the formation of these communities took a long period, and is a complex unity of many elements: different waves of immigration, intermarriage, and conversion. It has been suggested that the origins of what came to be called in Sinhala Yonnu (Marakalla) and in Tamil Chonakar (i.e. the ‘Moors’) were Arab immigrants from Southwest Asia in the 8th Century, or earlier. For at least a thousand years they have been an important part of Sri Lanka’s history as Moors, and not as Tamils or Sinhalese. Their settlement in and economic development of the Northwest coastal region, for example, may have given them a more important role than the Tamils played in what came to be Mannar.
The Moors also were prominent in the resistance to the Portuguese forces when they attempted their conquest. They lost much of the influence and prosperity they had enjoyed in pre‑ colonial times. When the Sri Lankans of the coastal areas came under Dutch rule in the middle of the 17th Century, the Moors were persecuted by the Dutch rulers and some of them migrated to the areas under Kandyan rule. No doubt the fact that among their new subjects this community, carrying on extensive commerce independently and successfully between foreign countries and both the coastal communities and the Kandyan kingdom made them the rivals of the Dutch traders. Before the Dutch, and even during their rule, the indigenous community which developed urban centres most in Sri Lanka were the Moors.
The different ethnic groups and nationalities who have composed the people of Sri Lanka for over a millenium, and since then, they have had different characteristics and ways of life. They lived tolerating one another’s religions and cultural differences. The language spoken before the 16th Century were only two ‑ Sinhala and Tamil. This was because the settlers who became Moors intermarried with the local population, and their descendants adopted the language of their mothers.
The relations between the Moors and the Tamils in different parts of Sri Lanka ‑ the North, the East, the North West etc. ‑ at different times is complex. But at a time when there is a struggle on to end oppression and domination of any ethnic group or nation by any other, it is important for Tamils to resist any attempt to deny the Muslims’ separate identity, rights of domicile, economic security, and right to life by groups which have greater military or political power. The Moors and Malays were victims of colonialism, like the rest of us. Since Independence they, like the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Hill country Tamils, have tried to achieve the security and peace they need. [Top]
Too often political arrangements for the East are discussed by people who do not understand the delicate communal relations, their fears, their historcial experience and the manner in which leadership has been exercised. Seldom is any thought given to uniting the communities and give them the confidence to co‑exist without feeling threatened. Constitutional arrangements with separate Muslim units violate the economic realities of the East. The matter of SInhalese colonisation also links with the control of water resources crucial to Tamils and Muslims. Sinhalese chauvinist politics which dominates the parliament aims at Sinhalising the East and hence does not look beyond opposing the North‑East merger. Northern Tamils see the East through the pan Tamil ideology rooted in Jaffna looking to a monolithic leadership, and prone to see dissent as treachery. To them the East is an exasperating enigma. The Colombo based Muslim leadership to serve its own power interests of patronage under major Sinhalese dominated parties tends to place barriers between Tamils and Muslims in the East. Examining the manner in which leadership is exercised in the East, gives us some insight into their peculiar problems.
In the 1950’s when the Tamils in the East were a more robust community, the pan Tamil appeal of the Federal Party caught on rapidly in the East. It also had a large number of Muslim adherents. This ideology came to be challenged by the weakening of the Tamil community. The small Tamil middle class in the East because of its professional bias had a tendency to drift to Colombo. The Muslim community was becoming stronger through increasing prosperity in trade and agriculture. Sinhalese colonisation was another factor in creating insecurity.
When the Tamils were more confident of themselves, there was much contempt for Muslim MP’s who got elected on Tamil votes and then changed over to the ruling party. The term ‘Thoppi Piratti’ (Turning the inside of the cap out) became a term of contempt associated with Muslims. That prevented any deeper examination of such conduct. As Tamils became a weaker and less confident community, the same phenomenon overtook many leaders of the Tamil community who made a virtue of similar conduct. But the same disparaging epithets were not applied to them with the similar force.
Early Muslim examples were Kariappar and Mustafa. Prominent examples on the Tamil side were Kanagaratnam and Rajadurai, elected MP for Pottuvil and Batticaloa respectively in 1977. Like in many cases of crossing over islandwide, there was much controversy connected with personal difficulties surrounding Kanagaratnam’s crossing from the TULF into the UNP. But his subsequent actions earned much local praise and others followed his example. It was an area where Tamils were feeling increasingly threatened and isolated, in respect of land, opportunities and security.
Although most articulate Tamils in the area subscribe to pan Tamil sentiments and regard the realisation of an autonomous Tamil homeland as being necessary for their long term survival, pressing immediate problems push them tactically into different courses. In the Amparai district many Tamils looked upon the creation of Tamil AGA’s divisions to safeguard themselves from perceived Muslim encroachments on land, and the creation of local hospitals and schools as difficulties in travel and security increased, as absolutely urgent. These could be obtained only when the MP representing them was with the governemnt. People were forced to think along these lines because the process of government was flawed and discrimination against Tamils a reality.
A resident of Thirukkovil who is a TULF sympathiser said, “Although many of us sympathise with the TULF, what Kanagaratnam did has been justified by events. A Sinhalese MP in the government may have done much more for his area, using ministerial and corporation funds. Kanagaratnam and Ranganayaki Pathmanthan, his sister, brought us schools, irrigation and hospitals through administering the MP’s developemnt allocation honestly. For us having an MP who was Tamil was very important. Once an independent Tamil contestant who had a good chance of winning, lost narrowly because key personages in the village worked against him, canvassing for a Muslim member who got elected. When it came to jobs, the few influential persons who worked for the Muslim member were able to secure jobs for their relatives. But others in the village were left in the cold. I had passed my A. Levels and my family was financially desperate. I could not afford to enter university. I had to approach the MP through agents, was sent here and there, to no avail. It was Kanagaratnam who later, upon election obtained jobs for many in the village. But he never let down the Tamil cause.”
An elder in Karaitivu who had attended the Trincomalee Federal Party convention in 1956, later associated him with Kanagaratnam and became a UNP member of the Amparai DDC in 1981. He reflected on his role with satisfaction, “We have the sea on one side and on the other 3 sides we are surrounded by the Muslim villages of Sainthamaruthu (N), Samanthaurai(W) and Nintavur(S). For our security and well being, we needed an AGA’s division, a school where our children could study up to university entrance instead of going to Kalmunai, and a hospital. Thank god, these were obtained when Kanagaratnam was MP. We created the Tamil AGA’s divisions of Karaittivu and Aladi Vembu in Akkaraipattu. Where would we have been without these during the recent troubles If we did not have a hospital, whatever would have happened to injured Tamil civilians? I have retired from public life. I can now go away with the satisfaction that I did my part.”
He added significantly,”Mind you, I never let down the Tamil cause. Even as a DDC member of the UNP, I always spoke up for Tamil. When Paul Nallayayagam reported an atrocity where the STF had rounded up and killed a large number of Tamil youth, he was put on trial. I testified as a witness and despite my UNP association, the police were looking for me in Colombo and I had to be in hiding”. Thus behind the politics of ‘cap turning’, one could find instances of genuine sacrifice and nobility.
Whenever there is a feeling of beleagueredness, one does find such politics. If we go back to the period which saw Muslim MP’s crossing the floor, we find similar pressures at work. In the 50’s and 60’s, the Eastern Muslims saw themselves a backward community in respect of the Tamils, and felt that they would remain at a disadvantage if they remained in the opposition with the Tamils. The governments who wanted the MP’s to crossover understood this and used it. This practice became a means of obtaining better services, better schools and even having good teachers transferred to these schools. In the end the Tamils were left feeling that the Muslims had gained an advantage at their expense.
The feeling of beleagueredness among Tamils led to twin reactions. One was a move to seek government patronage to offset the Muslims’ perceived advantage. The other was the growing explosive militancy.
It may also be noted that when leaders of Muslim villages like Eravur and Kattankudy negotiated with the LTTE early last year, their aim in the first instance to secure the distinct economic interests of their immediate community (Eravur depended largely on farming, while Kattankudy on trade). But in talking about the rights of the broader Muslim commnity, they presented a common front.[Top]
Behind politics of this kind lies a feeling of fatalism, weakness and paranoia. Each community felt that its world was contracting, it could not trust the other and that it had to grab whatever it could and save it for the future. The cruciality of carving up an AGA’s division corresponded to putting up a barbed wire fence to prevent the world from contracting further through alien advance. The end result was that brokers of power in the East became parties from outside, from whom patronage was sought. Whether it was the Sri Lankan government or the LTTE, a more recent arrival, they had the common aim of keeping the people of the East divided for their purposes.
When a weak people seeks patronage from a powerful force that it cannot influence, and whose overall purpose would not tolerate the liberty of the people, the result is bound to be a feeling of humiliation and anger among a large section. However well founded the expedient sought by Kanagaratnam’s ilk, he was identified with a government bent on destroying the feasibility of a Tamil homeland and marginalising the Tamils. It raised many moral questions. Even though the Muslim MP’s in the East belonged to one of the main Southern parties, there was skepticism among the Muslims that the government meant well by them. Indeed, several Muslim youth joined the Tamil militancy.
Likewise when Muslim leaders sought accommodation with the LTTE in return for securing basic Muslim rights, it gave rise to anger and serious reservations among Muslims. There were moral issues overlooked. Was the LTTE which was incapable of recognising the democratic rights of Tamils, going to respect the right of Muslims to have independent organisations presiding over their religious and cultural life? Within a few weeks of its arrival the LTTE showed a repressive face towards Muslims. A Muslim elder in Kattankudy, said, pointing to some of his younger colleagues, “When I was talking to the LTTE, I had serious misunderstandings with them”.
In the process of this politics, we have on the one hand a set of leaders who seek to avert trouble and bloodshed by desperately seeking compromises that cannot be had, and on the other hand a trend towards an explosive militancy.
A Muslim leader pointed to current peace talks at police stations as signifying the enfeeblement of both communities. Each side would ordinarily pour out a list of grievances against the other. Having security officials presiding places a natural inhibition against pointing to the chief culprit. The leader said, “We have become so small that we can only talk about others’ faults. If we change the exercise to one of talking about our own faults and misdeeds, it may then turn out to be more productive”.
The East is caught in a vice between the government’s ultimate aim of Sinhalese colonisation and the Tigers’ bid for power at any cost. Both these are self defeating. The explosive potency of the Tamil militancy in the East is a corollary to the powerlessness of the people. The same process could overtake the Muslims. It is a fatal error to gloat over another’s feeling of helplessness.
This is why we have called the Sinhalese chauvinist program of colonisation a mad policy with serious repercussions for the nation.
The origin of problems in the East owed to flawed government and the intrusion of patronage in the sharing of resources. Those who burn night oil in the academic exercise of trying to decide the ownership of the East by reference to historical antiquity, are divorced from ground realities. Their emotive enthusiasm will only contribute towards the disintegration of the nation. They do not even see the gravity of the humiliation of their national army despite its brutal endeavours.
A national policy towards the East should first aim at giving confidence to the Tamils and Muslims, and allow commonsense to smoothen out their intertwined lives. A policy of land settlement and its present momentum should be halted and consensus must be reached to handle the effects of the past.
There is a very big land question in the Amparai District that pertains to state sponsored colonisation of Sinhalese. (See Ch. 2 and Ch. 8 of Report No.5). This matter straddles the questions of land ownership in Sinhalese areas, state ideology, and the tendency towards multi‑nationalisation of agriculture. This problem poses a grave threat to the existence and security of Tamils and Muslims in the area. There is also a less serious land question that has raised tempers and has kept Tamils and Muslims apart in this area, obscuring the common danger faced by both. This sketch tries to explain the problem. It needs to be understood so that the accretion of myths can be cast aside and some agreement reached.
In keeping with the Jaffna model, the Tamils here oriented their values towards educational qualifications, government jobs and the professions. For those who made it, career advancement first moving to Batticaloa town and then settling down in Colombo. There was no development in the East, as in many Sinhalese provinces. Those with high educational attainments were rare in the East in comparison with Jaffna. The Tamils in the East thus lost most of those persons who should have given strength and stability to the community. It was much later when their physical security was threatened that Tamils came to realise the importance of securing land, to the point of making it a political issue.
But for much of the time until the 60’s, the transfer of land to Muslims was peaceful, legal and uncontroversial. The kind of thing said by a Tamil political leader is commonly heard in the Amparai District: “My father in law had nine children and 30 acres of paddy land. He employed a Muslim cultivator, whose two sons worked with him. The second son used to do bird watching from dawn until about 9.00 a.m. He would then catch fish in the lagoon for sale. He started going to school late and just managed to pass his SSC. Both sons are doing well now. The second fellow became a school teacher and owns paddy lands and a fleet of lorries. My father in law has sold all his paddy land and has nothing. He says with satisfaction that three of his children are graduates (who have now left the district) and that he has settled his children. Only he does not say how much he drank”.
The one incident of major violence in the 50’s was the rioting in Sammanthurai in 1954, that began with a minor private quarrel.
As we had mentioned in Special Report No. 3, the growing economic power of a section of the Muslims set certain trends in motion, which looked at rationally would have been innocuous. It resulted in prejudices and stereotypes which were used by politicians to consolidate themselves. The Jaffna dominated poltics of the Tamils never understood the richness of two communities coexisting in the East. Its role was divisive and encouraged animosities. Ulitmately all militant groups that were a product of Tamil politcs, did mete out collective punishment to the Muslims.
To place the current position of the Eastern Muslims in perspective, it may be useful to compare it with the position occupied by the Islanders in the social life of Jaffna. The offshore Islanders in Jaffna, used to perils of sailing in the past, have been traders for centuries. In recent times their influence had spread all the way from Jaffna town to Galle. Because of their wealth, they have been buying up chunks of residential property in Jaffna, and in consequence of the dowry system have secured professional bridegrooms from other parts of Jaffna for their daughters. By this, there has been a shift towards greater interest in education. Their political outlook as reflected in voting patterns is pragmatic rather than nationalist. Their success resulted in prejudice and sterotyping. There were even sections in Jaffna who referred to what the Islanders suffered during the army operation last August as deserved punishment. While the Islanders were similar to Eastern Muslims in their dominance in trade, they belonged to the same ethnic group as the other Jaffna Tamils. Nevertheless, they came in for strong emotions and unfair accusations.
But there were some basic unmistakable trends in the East which were closely linked to the economic and social orientation of the two communities. The Tamil middle class had weak ties with the land. The Muslims on the other hand were firmly rooted to the land on which they built their economic life and in consequence became influential.[Top]
When a section of Muslims became economically active, there was a natural wish on their part to advance educationally and socially. A Muslim leadership representing the above section, similar to that obtaining in other communities, tended to be shortsighted, and was not very sensitive about making the Tamils feel insecure. In a period which was becoming politically charged, the government was only too glad to use its power to divide the Tamils and Muslims. The fact is that for reasons justifiable or otherwise, Kariappar, a Muslim leader, who was elected MP for Kalmunai in 1956 on a Federal Party ticket with Tamil votes, crossed over to the government side shortly afterwards. Tamil feelings were so high that when Kariappar subsequently went by train to Batticaloa, he was prevented from entering. There then followed a colourful exchange of words and much unpleasantness.
It was from this period that myth started getting mixed up with reality, leading to a tendency to put different constructions on even legitimate advantages gained by Muslims. The cause was the intrusion of state patronage, which placed Tamils at a disadvantage. The feeling of being psychologically at a disadvantage was perhaps more significant than the material disadvantage. It induces a tendency towards resignation. It makes people sit back and complain rather than take stock and organise.
Against the background of the government and the police tending to be increasingly anti‑Tamil, the list of Tamil complaints grew. They saw themselves at a disadvantage whenever there were local disputes. They felt that Muslims were getting unfair advantage in education and services. Whether the Muslims on the whole gained through state patronage is doubted by Muslims themselves. From the west, state colonisation by Sinhalese was going on. Through state manipulation Muslims lost land in places like Ingurana. Kondavedduvan, a predominently Muslim settlement in the Gal oya scheme was eventually lost.[Top]
Nowhere are feelings more high than in the area around Kalmunai. In what follows we give in the form of a statement what was said by a retired government servant living in Kalmunai and a few others from the area:
In 1948, the Kalmunai electorate consisted of (1) Periya Kallar, (2) Maruthamunai (Periyanilawanai), (3) Thurainilawanai, (4) Pandiruppu, (5) Kalmunai, (6) Sainthamaruthu, (7) Karaitivu, (8) Natpiddimunai and (9) Senaikudiyiruppu. 1, 3, 4 & 7 were predominantly Tamil. The rest were mixed. Then this electorate was numerically more or less balanced and was capable of returning either a Tamil or a Muslim MP. In 1948 people were not too concerned whether a contestant was Tamil or Muslim. They rather looked to social standing. In 1948 Kariappar, a Muslim, was contested by Kanapathipillai, a retired Tamil civil servant from Karaitivu. but Kariappar held the prestigious colonial title of Wanniyar Mudaliyar. Thus even Karaitivu largely voted for Kariappar, who was elected.
Sensing perhaps a growth in communal rivalry, Kariappar used his influence to make Kalmunai a secure Muslim seat when an electoral commission set about redemarcating electorates. If justice was being done, the precedent set in the Batticaloa electorate should have been followed in Kalmunai, making it a multi‑member constituency capable of returning a Muslim in addition to a Tamil. But what was done could not have beem more disadvantageous for the Tamils. The Tamil areas of Thurainilavanai and Periyakallar were joined to the Tamil electorate of Paddiruppu (Kaluwanchikudy) to the north, and the sizeable Tamil area of Karaitivu was joined to the predominantly Muslim electorate of Nintavur. Henceforward Kalmunai was incapable of returning a Tamil member, and the stage was set for politcs with a communal colouring.
In Kalmunai town itself things steadily moved to the disadvantage of Tamils. Public land passed into the hands of Muslims. Where the Kalmunai Mosque stands was once public land housing a Tamil colony. The colony was displaced when the Local Board (Town Council) took it over as though for a public cause, and some years later sold it for building a Mosque. But on the other hand when the new Kalmunai courts were built, private Tamil land belonging to Thambirajah, the former Paddiruppu MP, in Division 4, was taken over.
Sainthamaruthu (between Kalmunai and Karaitivu) once had a sizeable Tamil community, that is now no more, although the area is still called the Tamil Division. Zahira College and Mohamed Balika Viyalayam now stand on land once owned by Tamils. Six Hindu temples in the area were destroyed. Tamils had sold the land cheap and had gone away after the 1967 communal violence.
During these same disturbances many Tamils in Kalmunai Division 3 (Divisions 1, 2 & 3 used to be Tamil. Central Division was mixed) boardering the Muslim area sold their land and went away. Muslims have now taken over about half of Division 3. Those persons displaced mostly resettled in Pandiruppu, Onththachchimadam and Aralpattai.
Amman Kovil Road in Division 3 has now been renamed Mosque Rd. The Tamils in Division 3 suffered again during the troubles of 1986 when the STF was in control. On 10 August 1986, the 300 year old Sri Tharavai Sithivinayagar Temple was smashed. This temple is endowed with paddy fields in Kalmunaikudy. This temple was rebuilt and was broken down again during the current troubles.
The Kalmunai Town Council once had a Tamil majority. After Kalmunaikudy was attached to Kalmunai, the Tamils are in the minority. Following the damage done to Division 3 in 1986, NORAD through the YMCA rebuilt 300 houses at the rate of Rs.15,000/‑ each. Each house was 15 ft by 10 ft with a 5ft verandah. These houses have now largely been destroyed during the current troubles.
Right now Gravel Kuli (pit), a piece of public land in the Tamil section of Central Division, is being given over for Muslim settlement. This would put a lot of pressure on Tamils in the neighbourhood.
Now the Tamils have decided that even if they are chased away by violence, they are not going to sell their land.
On the way from Karaitivu to Akkaraipattu, there are the villages of Nintavur, Attapallam, Oluvil, Thiraikerni, Palamunai, Meenodaikaddu and Addalachchenai. Startaing from Attapallam, the alternating villages were Tamil farming villages. Many of these Tamil villagers sold their lands to Muslims and left because they were constantly having trouble in getting a fair share of the water resources and did not stand much of a chance when it came to disputes. There are now no Tamils left in Meenodaikaddu.[Top]
It is not hard to imagine the effect such stories would have had on the younger generation which grew up hearing them. Those from the East who joined the militancy in the early 80’s did so largely to defend the Tamils against the Sinhala state. As the militancy degenerated, all groups started giving vent to anti‑Muslim feelings. The LTTE now uses such feelings for recruitment in the East, following recent events in areas such as Kalmunai.
What then is the truth? We have pointed out that there was an established trend towards a transfer of property from Tamils to Muslims, which was due to no fault of the Muslims. At the same time with state patronage favouring the muslims, it is understandable that some Muslims would have made criminal use of it. This is not something specific to one community. The use of thugs and bribed policemen in settling disputes and to cheat the helpless has been practiced all the way from Pt. Pedro to Dondra Head. Like with people anywhere else, many sensible Muslims were against such acquisition of property. While the whole thing is difficult to quantify, while talking to Tamils themselves one gets the feeling that the criminal use of influence is easily exaggerated.
There are certain factors to consider. Much more than Tamils, Muslims tend to live in clusters. If they have a field faraway, they do not put up a house there. They would travel from their cluster village. Thus their wanting to acquire property close to their settlement is understandable. They were then willing to pay a price much above what a Tamil buyer would have paid.
Muslims in Kalmunai were a trading community. It would have been natural for them to acquire property in Kalmunai or Sainthamaruthu. As residential areas these places are crowded and uninviting in comparison with Tamil places such as Kallar or Thirukkovil. It is hardly worth living in Kalmunai unless one is in trade or in a profession. Most Tamils in Kalmunai were either labourers or low ranking government servants. If they could sell off and go somewhere where land was cheap and they could farm, that ought to be welcomed. This appears to have happened.
Looking at the whole thing it is hard to maintain that Tamils have lost. When big land holders sold land to Muslims, they often left the province. When those living in shanties in Kalmunai left, they became economically more productive elsewhere in the region. If we are looking towards a healthier relationship and a healthier politics, it is best to understand the past episode and concentrate on rectifying political mistakes. There is still land in the East for those who have not.
The political leader we quoted at the beginning said quite aptly, that if the Tamils in the East are to have a future, they must produce and they must take to trade. Also they need to create an economic base that will make it possible for those with educational attainments to remain in the East. Our politics needs to be in such a direction as to secure these while having a fraternal relationship with the Muslims.
We have lots of people producing inefficiently without proper marketing facilities. These people need irrigation, transport and a marketing infrastructure. By comparison, the Sinhalese settled on the Gal Oya scheme were given everthing, including loans.
The Muslims have a healthy respect for Tamils and admire their attainments in education and culture. Even Eastern Muslims valued education in Jaffna. Generosity on the part of the Tamils will certainly be reciprocated. Our politics should have used our assets to good effect. Instead we have pursued a politics of destruction, trying to humiliate Sinhalese and Muslims, turn Jaffna into an educational and cultural desert, and use the Eastern Tamils with their frustrations and anxieties as expendable fuel, towards an unattainable goal.[Top]
Introduction : In what follows we will present some representative opinions of Muslims in the East who have thought seriously about current problems. What came out of conversations with a number of Muslims is scattered throughout this report. As many Tamils, particularly those outside the East often carelessly believe, it is far from being the case that Muslims are lording it over the Tamils. Muslims are on the contrary frightened, anxious and their economic life has been to a large extent stalled. Traders too are finding it tough. Because the fields are idle, people have no buying power. Muslims have been compelled by circumstances to seek protection from the armed forces whenever there are festive gatherings in the local Mosque. In the case of Muslim homeguards, it is often fear rather than belligerence that drives them.
We spoke to a retired school principal, much respected by Tamils and now in trade, whose brother had been killed by the LTTE while supervising his paddy field. He was gracious enough to say, “We have always been, and still stand for the Tamil cause. But not for the kind of thing we see now.” Another Muslim who has maintained close ties with Tamils was an Inspector of Schools for English teaching, who retired prematurely because he is unable to travel in Tamil areas. He was having second thoughts about remaining in Akkaraipattu and felt depressed. The building of his new house was stalled, because the builders were Tamil and they were afraid of working in his location. One hears many stories of this kind. The bomb blast in Akkaraipattu in late March was a grim reminder of the ever present mindless menace that kills and poisons minds.
1. The first person whose views are presented is a retired graduate teacher in science. At his present age of 50, he is now in trade. Coming from a family that was prominent in Muslim politics, he was keenly aware of the issues. None in the younger generation, he said, took to politics because they did not have the drive. He called himself a lifelong student who wished to learn about things. It was rather unforseen to walk into a shop off a dusty street in Akkaraipattu and have a long philosophical discussion. One is struck by the ties of family and of belonging which bind many educated Muslims to their soil. Emigration which is now a strong driving force amongst the Tamil middle class, seldom crossed their minds. They appear content to make a modest living at home.
Our interlocutor like many educated Muslims had a deep knowledge of Indian philosophy and his world view was influenced by it. He believed that when we quarrel, we are made to suffer because the driving forece behind the universe wants us to learn something. Time, he said, would vindicate and resolve issues. Without understanding the natural drift of things, we fight for lost causes and dissipate our energy. Some people make a highly strung cause out of putting women back where they were centuries ago. But the direction is already set. Unlike 20 years ago, we now accept women professionals and it does not hurt us. Tamils and Muslims have lived together for centuries and despite the occasional set back, they would continue to live together and profit from each other. But social relations and patterns are changing. Muslims having been educationally backward are being educated by Tamils. The Tamil caste system is breaking up, changing economic and social relations. We must make sure that we do not become emotional and expend energy on causes which future generations would condemn.
This small digression is meant to illuminate his answers. The gist of the conversation is presented in question and answer form.
Q: There is a strongly expressed feeling among Tamils in Kalmunai that they are being marginalised by the Muslims.
A: Of course there is such a feeling. But what lies behind such feelings is not often serious. Here in Akkaraipattu there are such feelings between Muslims in Division 2 and those in Division 6. Those in Division 2 were once of a higher social status. Those in Division 6 felt looked down upon and marginalised. Now those in Division 6 have made great advances and are perhaps on par with those in Division 2. But they still feel marginalised. It becomes a hot issue at election times.
Q: But, there is a widespread Tamil feeling that their residential and paddy lands were acquired by Muslims through actual or threatened violence, by unfair means.
A: I know, such feelings are very well articulated because your community had wide access to education. But that is changing like everything else because you are teaching us.
It is not only here, but such feelings are also being articulated in places like Kandy. Look, where do you find Muslims living in isolation? For many reasons they live in groups or clusters. For this reason if they wish to purchase land and are willing to pay a good price, is that a crime?
I do not agree that Tamils selling land out of fear was a common phenomenon. You must look at what happened to the Tamils who sold their properties in crowded towns such as Akkaraipattu, Kalmunai or Sainthamaruthu. You will find that many of them have used that money to purchase more spacious properties elsewhere. Is there anything wrong in that?
It is easy enough to look back at something that has happened, and put a different construction on it. In fairness you must ask when it happened and why it happened at that time.
One part of this complex process is the caste system among Tamils. A significant number of Tamils living in towns belonged to the service castes. The paraiahs who acted as town criers later became redundant. They sold their little plots in town, and took to chena cultivation ‑ that is burning jungles and using it as manure to grow paddy. After one season of cultivation, they moved on. They did not level the land and develop it. Perhaps they did not have the money. Such lands were sold cheap to Muslims who developed the land. The Tamil Vellalas were not interested in such lands because they had their fertile purana (ancient) fields. Once these service castes ran out of chena land, they found it easier to work as labourers for Muslim cultivators. They were less acceptable to the Tamil Vellalas, whereas the Muslims are a more open society. Is it not fair to look upon this relationship as one that mutually benefits the Muslims and those Tamils who now work for them? Would you call me wicked or arrogant for having a servant to work for me?
You know that there was a tendency among Tamil Vellalas to sell and go where there was white collar work. You may have heard talk to the effect that Muslims were taking over Akkaraipattu town. you must recognise the contribution made by Muslims to the economy of the area. If not for the Muslims, Akkaraipattu would have been a town with a dwindling (Tamil) Vellala community. You will see that there is often a different story behind what appears upsetting on the surface.
Q: How do you see the present climate of violence between Muslims and Tamils?
A: It is wrong to put the question that way. If we take the last 100 years of our co‑existence, there may have been about 10 days of actual violence. There is occasional friction and it gets ironed out. Why should we highlight those 10 days in comparison with the rest of those 100 years when we have worked together, traded and benifitted from our intercourse? In the process we have both realised greater freedom. Some people may advocate reactionary causes for their power. But the present troubles will pass and time will resume its normal course towards greater freedom.
Our interlocutor also reflected on comparisons between Muslims and Tamils. Contrary to myth, he said, the Muslims are not a disciplined community. In normal times, he said, you cannot get them to agree on a single course of action.
He said, “There is very little orderliness in the Muslim community. If you can give the Tamils 50% for orderliness it is about 10% for Muslims. Yours is a community with cultural traditions that have evolved over millenia. Whatever order we have, it is through inbibing of this cultural tradition through inter‑ marrying. The main force in Muslim society is law and dogma. When these are invoked, it gives us the strength of the mob. Though potent, it peters out fast. Thus in practice there is a lot of division and Muslims are incapable of sustained effort towards a single goal.”
2. Our second interlocutor is Eastern Ibrahim, secretary of the Amparai District East Coast Farmers’ Association (ADECFA). The significance of this association is that it represents both Muslims as well as Tamil interests and both Tamils as well as Muslims are active in the association. His articles, which are factually informative, regularly appear in the Virakesari and are much appreciated by Tamils in the area. The theme he advocates is the need for Tamils and Muslims to work together against the common danger of state aided colonisation. The name Eastern comes from the name of his shop, now temporarily sited at the Akkaraipattu central bus stand, and has become more or less official. A large number of Tamils are his customers for the likes of honey, gingelly oil, spices and condiments. Each one goes away in the conviction that he or she made a good bargain.
Q: You have been strongly highlighting colonisation by state as the main threat of Muslims and Tamils.
A: The state is determined to make the East Sinhalese. Under such an ideology, there will be no place for Tamils and Muslims. In the Amparai District itself the situation is quite alarming. This was once a Muslim majority district with hardly any Sinhalese (4% in 1920). The ratio of Sinhalese:Muslims:Tamils in the 1981 census was 37:39:24. The estimate for 1991 is 47:34:19. The figures for Tamils includes burghers and Tamils of Indian origin. If this trend continues, Muslims will only form 26% of the population in the year 2000.
Keeping in mind that the rule of law has declined and people are very much at the mercy of violence by powerful groups, looked at from another angle, the situation is even more alarming. Take the main truck route from the western border of the district to the coast. It is 8 miles from the border to Padiatalawa. Then 20 miles to Maha Oya. Then 36 miles to Amparai town, and then another 8 miles to Digavapi. From there it is only 6 miles to the coast. Up to and including Digavapi, all areas are now Sinhalese.
As long as Tamils and Muslims are engaged in fighting each other, colonisation will go ahead, and both our communities are finished.
Q: What do you have to say about a widespread Tamil perception that the Muslims have got the better of them and that Muslims have acquired land by unfair means?
A: Generally, Tamils sold land and went away. There was occasional violence, but I do not think that was very significant. Many Tamil villages, including Meenodaikaddu, next to Addalachchenai, have disappeared because the Tamils sold the land and went away. One cannot point to any significant history of violence, in respect of say Meenadaikaddu.
Q: Can you say more about what you have in mind when you advocate Tamils and Muslims working together?
A: They must work together on a common political program with the clear objective of combatting colonisation by the state. This is where I disagree with much of the politics in the past of both Muslim as well as Tamil groups, including that of the SLMC at present. It has been very divisive.
Though Kariappar was thought to be helping the Muslims, what he did was ultimately damaging to the Muslims. He was angry with the Tamils and the measures he complied with hurt the Muslims as well. He advocated the carving out of Amparai District in 1961 from the Eastern Province, in the hope of having a Muslim majority district. Even then Kalmunai would have been the natural district capital, as it was the centre of population, had an administrative infrastructure, and was readily accessible to most people in the district. But there were few Muslims in the Civil Service, and thus Kalmunai would have normally had a Tamil Government Agent and many of the administrative staff would have been Tamil. Kariappar did not want this. So we ended up with the district capital in Amparai town. Thus the administrative power in the district passed into Sinhalese hands, making state sponsored colonisation much easier. In the district which is largely Tamil speaking it is now very difficult to get work done in Tamil.
You know the outcome. Muslims have now largely left Kondavedduvan, a predominently Muslim village in the Gal Oya scheme. Even Kariappar’s lands there were lost.
You can see what could happen if Tamils and Muslims do not work as brothers. In the light of this, trends in Tamil militant groups are very distrubing.
A: A North‑East merger is a must. If we do not have a merger, we do not need provincial councils. Without the merger the East would be Sinhalese by the year 2000 or so.
Q: Can you give your views on the sub‑councils that are being talked about?
A: Utter nonsense! These people who talk about them are involved in a theoretical exercise without taking into account ground realities. Take Akkaraipattu. If you look out of the shop, what you see is the bazaar where we Muslims do business. This is part of the Tamil AGA’s division. But we reside in the Muslim division. What would a sub‑council profit us if we have to live in one administrative district and have our economy in another? The same is true everywhere in the East. With sub‑councils, we may have people living in one administrative district, having their paddy fields in another and perhaps their water resources in yet another. That would be a nightmare. Those who talk about these things should know how we live.
What we need is a single council with Muslim rights specified and respected.
The two perceptions we have presented show that there is still considerable potential to build good relations on a firm foundation. This also applies at national level. We also see that ordinary people living in a situation can be creative in their outlook and are capable of valuable insights ‑ often more profound than those obtaining in intellectuals who are removed from ground realities.[Top]
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